What we can learn from these contrarians

4 Lessons from the Back to the Land Movement

by Debra Karplus


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If you were around in the late 1960s or 1970s, thoughts of the Back to the Land Movement will likely put a smile on your face. People like you, or perhaps your parents, who grew up in nice upper middle class urban or suburban homes who seemed to have more than enough of everything and then some, opted to shed their cultural roots for the simpler life. Young adults chose to reject city life for a greater familiarity with life's basics. Hitchhiking was still thought of as safe back then and a young adult could travel coast to coast with a thumb out and a knapsack filled only with essentials. Or, maybe some of your friends took up residency in their refurbished and brightly decorated Volkswagen bus. Some of the old photos of that era look really silly, but there are some valuable financial lessons to be learned from the Back to the Land Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Today's baby boomers need to swallow their pride and know that a minimalist lifestyle was not a concept that their generation invented. The idea of removing excess to make room for a more purposeful life has gone in and out of fashion for centuries. In high school, you likely read about Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American author, poet, essayist, and lecturer who lived from 1803 to 1882. Many of his writings focused on respect for nature and on self-reliance. His colleague and friend, author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau who lived 1817 to 1862, wrote "I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately" around 1845 in his book, Walden. He knew something special!

In America, the 1950s were a prosperous time. Goods were plentiful, and consumerism, the practice of acquiring goods for the sake of the buying, was prevalent. Then came the 1960s and 1970s and the rejection by baby boomers of all that stuff. In 1969, The Whole Earth Catalogue was published; it was a unique book that contained a little bit of everything that a person needed to live a simpler life. At the same time, came a series of books, The Foxfire Books, which taught basic skills to preserve traditional folk culture, such as how to build a log cabin.


In the half-century since this colorful period in American youth culture, concepts from the Back to the Land Movement have not really gone away; they have just grown up along with the Hippies of the 1960s and 1970s. In 2001, a book by John de Graaf entitled Affluenza hit the bookstores and went flying! In the past decade or so, numerous studies, articles, and entire books have focused on happiness. The gist of the data is that money and happiness are related simply because having money enables people to have more choices to live the life they desire. But, it can be inferred that having a high income and/or high net worth does not guarantee happiness, and conversely, having financial struggles does not necessarily create a life of unhappiness.

Four Ways to Have More with Less:

1. Maintain a familiarity with life's basics.

Have fun while learning some basic skills by yourself or with your family. Make bread or have the entire family make pizza together from scratch. Do a building project together, such as a bird house or something more complicated.

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2. Embrace a minimalist lifestyle and reject consumerism.

Learn to differentiate your wants from your needs. Yes, perhaps all your friends have cable television or the latest video games or new living room furniture. Does that mean you need all those things? Be mindful before embarking on an activity or lifestyle upgrade. Choose to live below your means. Create a home and yard and lifestyle where being home feels better than going out just for the sake of getting out of the house.

3. Aim for a simpler life living deliberately and purposefully.

Life can be rich, full, meaningful, and yet simple. Don't make life any more complicated than it needs to be. You don't need a wallet full of many different credit cards; one or two is probably enough. You don't need to drive all over town to save money on a gallon of milk; consolidate your grocery shopping and other errands.

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4. Create choices for yourself for optimal happiness.

Avoid the "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality and make choices that open doors for you and your family. Be a contrarian when needed and go against the grain if it benefits your family, despite the trends and what others are doing.

There are many valuable life lessons to be learned from those in America's past who opted to reject consumerism. Be a trendsetter in your own family or community and get more out of life by having less. Don't acquire more belongings simply because you can!


Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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